There are a number of possible routes to go down in order to put something like this in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible. The easiest would be to upload the thing to Youtube, hit ‘Publish’, and move on. But to take something to a wider audience? To lift it above the trillions of bytes of throwaway trash that swamps the net? To give the project longevity, purpose and pride? (And, let’s not forget, to somehow recoup the financial investment?) Youtube probably isn’t the best solution.
To a large extent, our decision to enter the international film festival circuit was dictated by what we had in our hands at the end of the production process. This, as it turned out, was a single feature-length piece, 78 minutes in length, which really couldn’t be broken up into episodes for television or into even smaller fragments for online publishing. The film needed the feature-length format in order for the story to hold its own. It was the only format that worked.
Being total newcomers to independent filmmaking, we decided to join the thousands of other feature-length documentaries in the competition for acceptance into the world’s biggest and most acclaimed international film festivals. Aim high — why not? We felt that we would have very little to lose by doing so, save for a few hundred pounds of submission fees, which at the end of the day is just a few hundred pounds.
To that end, we sent Janapar off to the selection panels of Sundance, Berlinale, Rotterdam, HotDocs, SXSW and a raft of other well-regarded showcases that accept feature-length documentary pieces. So far, the big two — Sundance and Berlinale — have sent us their politely-worded letters of rejection. Whether or not we’ll have any success with the rest of this big, clique-driven industry remains to be seen. Those involved in the selection process may love it; they may toss it straight in the bin; they may not care because they’re interns and they’re not getting paid and they’ve been told to simply get through all the submissions and pick out the names that’ll keep the festival’s PR department happy. We don’t know.
But now — January, February, March — is when the remaining responses are due to start trickling in. Things will begin to move, though we don’t know in what direction. The major festivals take place during the first half of the year, allowing films to find their premiere, with smaller and niche-market festivals following in the latter months. Most filmmakers want their premiere at the biggest festival that will accept them. There is a certain prestige and attention surrounding one’s world premiere, but it can only happen once. So it would make no sense to host the first public screening of a film at a niche festival before receiving replies from the larger events. Because of this, the big players naturally come first in the calendar. We knew nothing about the festival scene until a few months ago, and this is one of the many things we’ve learnt.
I’m sitting tight, as is James, for these letters to drop through our mailboxes. Their contents will dictate how we spend our 2012, how and where we’ll have the opportunity to spin this yarn of ours, and what opportunities we’ll have in the future to make more films and tell more stories. This could be very exciting. Or it could mean that we finally end up putting Janapar on Youtube and moving on. We’ve no choice but to wait and see.